Grotta di Rio Martino

Balma di Rio Martino

Useful Information

Location: Near Crissolo, Val Po. 46 km NW of Cuneo. 15 min walk from Crissolo on the right bank of the river upstream, then follow trail uphill to the cave.
Open: APR to OCT no restictions.
Guided tours: after appointment only.
Fee: Free.
Guided tours: Per Person EUR 6.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave. SpeleologyAktive Wasserhöhle
Light: carbide lamps.
Dimension: A=1,525 m asl., T=5 °C, H=100%.
Guided tours: L=530 m, D=2 h.
Photography: Allowed
Accessibility: No
Bibliography: G. B. Araldo (1878): La caverna di Rio Martino, Tip. Lobetti, Saluzzo: 1-12. (Italiano - Italian)
C. Balbiano (1973): La grotta di Rio Martino, R.S.I., XXV,1-4:1-16. (Italiano - Italian)
V. Bergerone (1974): Grotta di Rio Martino, Variante alpinistica al ramo superiore. La Rata Voloira, boll. Speleo Club Saluzzo, 1:11-12. (Italiano - Italian)
M. Galliano, F. Tesi (1986): Nuove esplorazioni a Rio Martino, Grotte, boll. G. S. Piemontese CAI-UGET, Torino, 90: 27-29. (Italiano - Italian)
Address: Grotta di Rio Martino, Tel: +39-0
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1609 visited by Cardinal Cinzio Albobrandi, nephew of Pope Clement VIII, and Cardinal Cesareo.
1627 abbot and writer Milan Valeriano Castiglione explores cave and writes a description in his "Relatione di Monviso et della origine del Fiume Po" (Relation of Monviso and the origin of the River Po, ed. Tip. Stradella Cuneo 1627).
1655 in fear of the Waldenses the vicar of Crissolo decided to relocate the relics of St. Chiaffredo into the cave.
1772 Vincenzo Malacarne from Saluzzo visited the cave and decided that it was an ancient gold mine.
1808 cave was classified as a marble quarry.
1858 first cross section of the cave drawn by Carlo Meineri, head of the sezione topografica del Regio Esercito Sardo (topographich section of the Royal Army of Sardinia).
1871 archaeologic excavation.
1872 archaeologic excavation.
03-AUG-1878 new trails with wooden bridges and hand rails opened to the public.
1906 cave managed by the young Sezione "Monviso" of the Club Alpino Italiano (Italian Mountaineer Club).
1957 explorations by the cavers from GSPCAI-UGET Turin expands length to 1,650 m with a vertical range of 120 m.
1961 siphon dived and new parts discovered.
30-SEP-1962 members of the Speleo Club Saluzzo "Francesco Costa", headed by Pio Monelli, find safe way to reach the upper parts.
2009 developed as a show cave by the town Crissolo and the region Piemonte.


The Grotta di Rio Martino or also Balma di Rio Martino is developed, but not really a well-developed show cave. The path is a little rough, just a few steps and bridges, no electric light and there are no regular guided tours. The cave is open during summer and can be visited freely. There are didactic caving tours organized for school classes and other groups.

The cave is well known for a long time and was very early developed. Some chambers interchange with low ceilings up to the end of the easy accessible part, at a 40 m high waterfall. This lower branch is a river cave, and is about 530 m long. The cave has no speleothems but very interesting erosive and corrosive surfaces. This is the part which is open for tourists, the upper fossil part is too difficult and dangerous. Visitors have to return on the same way.

The cave is located at 1,530 m a.s.l. high above the valley Po at the slopes of the Rocca Grane. Park the car at Crissolo, at the upper end of town, and then walk up the tail along the steep valey, which was formed by the cave river. The cave is 250 m higher, so the ascend takes some time. Depending on your physical fitness you should allow about five hours for this tour, two hours for the walk to the cave entrance, two hours inside the cave.

The cave is developed in Triassic dolomitic limestone. The formation of the cave is mainly a result of the last ice age, as it was formed by the melting water of the huge glacier which formed the upper valley of the river Po. Those melting waters contained a lot of material from the upper end of the water, which were transported by the ice. So the gravel in the cave contains serpentine pebbles and quartz which can not be found in the limestone. Also the chemistry of the cave clay is rather different from other caves. The cave walls are full of scallops, flat pits which are formed when water flows through an completely filled cave. Today it is still the home of a cave river, and while it rises during the snow melt in spring, it never gets that high again.

The cave was excavated in 1871 and 1872 and the results published in the "Gazzetta di Saluzzo" on 28-JUL-1872. Several Neolithic tools and what seemed to be remains of a camp were discovered. Other remains were from Roman times and indicate that this area was Roman since the time of Diocletian. Unfortunately the findings got lost during the last 100 years.

During the Middle Ages the locals avoided the cave, as they thought it contained evil spirits called masche. But there were legend, that suspicious meetings were held in the cave, which included orgies with unspeakable hell beings perpetrating evil spells and witches who regularly created thunderstorms. So at the end of the 16th century the cave was exorcised by the Jesuits. It seems this did not work well as the fame of stopping the sabbaths in the cave is given to Cardinal Cinzio Albobrandi, nephew of Pope Clement VIII, and Cardinal Cesareo. They visited the cave in the year 1609. So later the cave could even be used as a hideout of the relics of St. Chiaffredo from the Waldenses.

During the centuries the cave was visited by many famous persons, and finally at the end of the 19th century the trails were developed. Wooden bridges with handrails were opened to the public on the 03-AUG-1878, which is probably the official opening as a show cave. The concession for the cave was then given to the newly founded Sezione "Monviso" of the Club Alpino Italiano (Italian Mountaineer Club) in 1909. They were the first to climb behind the waterfall and explore the upper parts of the cave. They constructed a series of ladders and wooden planks on the vertical cliff face which allowed the ascend to the upper parts. At this time all the climbing gear and techniques which are used by modern cavers were not yet invented. The construct was uused until the 1960, when it was removed becaus it had become unsafe.

There were numerous scientific explorations of the cave, like the archaeologic excavation in 1871/1872. In 1875 an experiment was started to grow fish, mainly trouts, inside the cave. They were living in a barrel in the cave for two years. In 1963 the cave lafe was studied by a group of biologists in cooperation with the istituto di Zootecnica Generale.

The cave is very well explored, especially for its speleobiologic aspects. Many cave animals were found in the cave, including the rare bat Barbastellus barbastella which prefers cold caves like this one. Once 272 of those bats have been counted, which makes this the most important habitat for them in Italy. Seven different species of bats have been found in the cave. According to a new European law for bat protection this cave is closed completely during the winter.